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New planets keep popping up

This article appeared in the 4/5/19 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

New planets keep popping up

Artist concept of TESS. Wikimedia Commons/NASA Courtesy image

Newly discovered Saturn and Jupiter-sized exoplanets by TESS

By Vinita Domier

Davis Astronomy Club


On March 28, a team of astronomers announced the discovery of a hot Saturn-sized gaseous planet, named TOI-197.01, closely orbiting a star outside our solar system. This extra-solar or exoplanet was first indirectly detected by NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite(TESS), and then subsequently confirmedby ground-based Stellar Observations Network Group (SONG) telescope network. 

This follows a similar announcement earlier this year confirming the discovery of a hot Jupiter-sized gaseous exoplanet, named HD 202772A b. It too closely orbits its parent star and was first detected by TESS and then confirmed by follow-up studies by ground-based CHIRON, HARPS, and TRES spectrographs. 

These are some of TESS’s first major exoplanet discoveries since it became operational in August after its successful launch in April 2018. TESS is NASA’s next generation of exoplanet-hunting satellite, following the hugely successful Kepler space telescope mission that detected around 4000 exoplanets during its nine years of operation between 2009 - 2018. TESS aims to detect around 20,000 exoplanets during its primary two-year mission.

NASA’s main objective for TESS (and Kepler before it) is to identify earth-like exoplanets in habitable zones around stars where water can exist in liquid form providing living organisms conditions suitable for life to flourish. While Kepler peered at a relatively small area of the sky and observed distant stars, TESS will focus on over 500,000 nearest and brightest stars while eventually surveying about 85% of the sky.

TESS (and Kepler when it was operational) detects the presence of potential planets orbiting stars in extra-solar systems by monitoring a star’s brightness via the transit method. A slight and regular dip in the star’s light curve can indicate that a planet is periodically transiting or crossing in front of its parent star and blocking out some of the starlight for a line-of-sight observer. Highly sensitive on-board photometric cameras can detect and record this minute change in starlight intensity. The size, diameter, orbital period, and distance from the parent star of the exoplanet can then be inferred from the size, duration, and frequency of the dip in brightness of the observed star.

Please join the Davis Astronomy Club at Explorit Science Center (3141 5thStreet, Davis) on Saturday, April 6 starting at 7:30pm for the discussion on TESS and exoplanets. As the new moon is on April 5, this is also a good time to view faint deep-sky objects like galaxies, open and globular star clusters, planetary nebulas, and supernova remnants. Everyone is invited to the free meeting indoors, followed by a star party outdoors (weather permitting). 

New this summer! Evening camp at Explorit for students age 12-16 years “The Stars and Our Night Sky”, July 8-12.  To register and for more information see

For more information on the Astronomy Club or Astronomy Camp, please contact Explorit at explorit@explorit.orgor call 530-756-0191.

Explorit's coming events:

  • Visit Explorit's latest exhibition, Earth Explorations. Explorit'sExploration Galleryis open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 p.m.  Admission is $5.00 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.
  • Consider a donation to Explorit. Now more than ever, we need science education. Your donations help Explorit serve our community with exhibits, activities and educational outreach programs in 15 surrounding counties. 
  • To purchase or renew your membership online call Explorit at 530-756-0191. For a list of participating museums across the nation visit
  • Be an informal science educator for a day! Explorit is looking for volunteers to accompany our educators into classrooms during the day and assist with presenting hands-on science to school children. If this sounds like you, please fill out a volunteer application at



Explorit Science Center is located at 3141 5th St. For more information call (530) 756-0191 or visit, or "like" us on Facebook at

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